Joffre Gorge: Can you see the sunbathers?
Previously known as Hamersley National Park, the name of the park was changed in recognition of the traditional owners of the land: the Aboriginal Banyjima, Kurrama, Yindjibarndi and Innawonga tribes, who called the area Karijini. These tribes have lived in the region for more than 20,000 years. The Yindjibarndi people, in particular, regard Karijini as central to their spiritual and cultural heritage, and ancient rock art and hidden burial caves can be found on the land.
The stunning colors of a sunset over Banjima Drive
Located in the semi-arid Pilbara region, the Karijini National Park is the second largest national park in Western Australia, spanning 2,422 square miles. Within these borders lies the Hamersley Mountain Range. And as well as high peaks, there are also eight impressive gorges, each of them boasting depths of up to 328 feet. Incredibly, the landscape here is over two billion years old.
Beautiful rusty reds color the steep walls of Oxers Lookout
Composed mostly of banded iron formations, these remarkable rocks date back to the Precambrian period. During that time, there was much less oxygen in the atmosphere, and the only forms of life were bacteria rich with silica and algae. It’s believed the rocks were formed by a combination of blue-green algae and dissolved iron found in seawater, which created insoluble iron oxides. These oxide deposits then landed on the substrate where they spread out in thin layers, gradually becoming the banded iron rocks visible today. It’s amazing to think that these huge, solid formations are a product of something soft and slimy like algae.
Kermit’s Pool entices you to dive right in.
With such breathtaking scenery, it’s no wonder the gorges of Karijini are popular with hikers and explorers. But, be warned, they can be as treacherous as they are beautiful. According to local police, accidents frequently occur along the steep gorges. In 2012, a woman in her 50s had to be winched out after falling while hiking near a pool. And in 2011, a tragic incident claimed the life of 31-year-old hiker Christopher Majewski and critically injured his seven-year-old son.
Trees cover the cliff tops around Oxers Lookout.
John Winton, acting regional director of the Fire and Emergency Services in the Pilbara area, says that Karijini Park is “an inherently dangerous place, and unless people are well aware of what dangers there are out there then people can and unfortunately do come to grief there.” From October 2010 to October 2011, there were eight deaths in the area.
Even Spider-Man would struggle to walk along the slippery rocks beneath the Spiderwalk!
Despite the dangers, however, visitors are drawn to the national park by the stunning scenery and abundant wildlife. There are 133 species of birds in the area, including wedgetail eagles and spinifex pigeons. There are also 92 species of amphibians and reptiles: look out for goannas, geckos, legless lizards, dragons and pythons.
Sunrise at Joffre Gorge
Anyone interested in mammals will not be disappointed with Karijini, either. Red kangaroos, dingoes, rock-wallabies, echidnas, wallaroos and bats all call the area home. Termites are one inhabitant you might be less likely to spot, but you will notice their massive constructions. Enormous termite mounds dot the area, as do the smaller stone piles of the rare pebble mouse. These stone mounds mark the underground nesting chambers of the mice.
Pink clouds at last light, Dales Gorge
For budding botanists, Karijini is a great place to find native plants. Eucalypts like the snappy gum grow on the hills and plateaus, along with spinifex and porcupine grass (a grass that survives in arid environments by having roots up to 30 feet long). In the more humid climate of the gorges, surrounded by lush ferns, you’ll find gum trees and cadjeputs, also known as weeping paperbarks.
Looking down on Junction Pool from Oxers Lookout
The gorges are also full of native rock figs, which produce a fruit that birds find irresistible. The birds then pass these seeds in their droppings. Sometimes the seeds end up on precarious ledges, where they germinate and grow up and around the rocks with their roots reaching down to the water – which can be up to 32 feet away.
Gazing up at a beautiful blue sky from Weano Gorge
Recently, the iron-rich landscape of Karijini has been the subject of some controversy. Mining company Fortescue Metals has leased the land to mine iron ore and hopes to extract 60 million tons of the valuable rocks and minerals a year. However, this has brought them into conflict with traditional landowners the Yindjibarndi, to whom Karijini is a sacred place.
A small waterfall trickles down Weano Gorge.
The mining company has offered the Yindjibarndi people compensation for their land, which the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) has rejected, saying that the amount is inadequate for a place so central to their cultural and religious lives. Under local law, the YAC cannot stop the mining, but they are allowed to negotiate for land access compensation. The battle between the mining group and the Yindjibarndi people continues.
Rain clouds threaten above Banjima Drive.
The Yindjibarndi aren’t the only people concerned about mining around Karijini. Conservationists worry that mining operations have penetrated the area’s water table, putting it in danger of contamination. The mining boom has also greatly stressed the water supply in a region permanently on water restrictions. Sinkholes and subsidence have begun to appear in the national park, and while the cause may be natural, some believe mining is to blame. Mining company Rio Tinto claim they are taking steps to reduce their water consumption.
Red rocks dominate the landscape along Banjima Drive.
On a brighter note, Western Australia’s Pilbara Planning and Infrastructure Framework document won an award in 2012 for its ideas on how to approach development over the next 25 years. The document’s authors addressed issues such as environmental and heritage concerns, economic growth, transport, infrastructure, water resources, tourism, and climate change, and they furthermore suggested strategies for dealing with these issues. The importance of conserving places of natural and cultural importance in Karijini was also emphasized. Hopefully all of this will lead to positive developments for the environment and people of the region.
Water cascades down stepped rocks.
As you can tell from looking at these incredible photographs, Karijini National Park is a place where striking geology, abundant wildlife, stunning vegetation and years of tradition combine to create something truly extraordinary. Our virtual trip there wouldn’t have been possible without the images provided by photographer Stuart Westmore, so we thank him for sharing them with us.